Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

School of Education

Research Student: Stewart Gray

Photo of Stewart Gray

To learn or not to learn Korean: A narrative study of foreign English teachers in Korea

Submission Date: July 2021

My study concerns the experiences of foreign English teachers (FETs) living and working in South Korea to explore the discursive value, or absence thereof, of learning and using Korean for an English teacher from an inner-circle English-speaking country.  Of particular concern is the contrast between those who learn and those who do not.

Though historically ethnically homogenous, Korean society has recently experienced a surge of economic immigration. This, coupled with a faltering birth-rate among ethnic Koreans, has posed challenges to the discursive construction of the Korean ethnicity, nation and language as special and exclusive. It is into this environment that foreign English teachers (all of them, by legal necessity, from so-called inner-circle countries) enter and make the decision to learn or not to learn Korean. While the freedom not to learn Korean to any significant extent even after years of residency could be said to be a reflection of privilege, nevertheless some teachers learn Korean to a high level, while many (perhaps most) do not.

Following Michel Foucault’s description of ethical self-formation (the process of agentically creating ourselves in relation and response to the social discourses to which we are subject), this study involves gathering and examining the narratives of foreign English teachers describing their experiences of living in Korea. Participants include those who have learned Korean, and those who have not.

My goal is to analyze these participants’ narratives and to explore the nature of the discourse on language, ethnicity and nationality in Korea, how these influence participants experiences, in what ways and for what reasons these experiences represent privilege and/or marginalization, and how participants respond to their experiences. This analysis will serve to elucidate the ways in which people making an agentic choice to learn a language or not are subject to discourse that influences their decisions.

Background

I’m an English teacher, originally from Newcastle upon Tyne, currently living and working in Korea, primarily teaching university students, but also corporate employees and young children.

I graduated from Newcastle University with a BA in Modern Languages, and Dankook University (Yongin, Korea) with an MA TESOL.

I’m a frequent presenter at local and international ESL conferences, and I’m very active with English teachers’ associations within Korea. My particular areas of interest in the field are language and identity, reflective practice, critical thinking, critical pedagogies, and extensive reading.

What motivated me to undertake PhD study?

I love to study; I am enthusiastic about reading and writing research in the field of education; I currently teach in a university, which in my mind makes the progression to PhD study quite natural; I plan to make of my current line of work a career, quite possibly for life, and so I wish to pursue to deepest subject knowledge and highest qualification I can.

What makes me passionate about my subject?

My area of study ultimately relates back to the question of why people learn languages, and as a lifelong learner of languages I’m fascinated by this question. Furthermore, the particular group I intend to study is one to which I belong, so my stake in the research is very personal.

What are my plans once I have completed my PhD?

I plan to continue teaching English and researching various areas of interest.

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